Structured Choice for De-Escalating Behavior

  • Situation

    What can I do when my student wants to keep playing & cries because it is time to go home?

  • Summary

    Crying will most likely escalate if you use words like, “it is too late…time to go home…cannot do this now.” Use the Structured Choice Strategy to decrease the behavior. State: “When it is play time tomorrow, what will you choose? These Lincoln Logs or the art area?” When there is a reply continue with more questions: “Would you like to write that down so we remember?” Would you like to write it on paper or on the blackboard?”; “Would you like me to write it or do you want to?” The situation should change from an increasingly trying and argumentative moment to a diffused and happy one as the student feels control over a situation in which she previously felt powerless.

  • Definition

    A structured choice option is an intervention that gives a student a sense of control over a situation by providing choices. Structured choice interventions are used to prevent or de-escalate interfering behaviors and to increase appropriate behaviors.

  • Quick Facts

    • Child's Age: 3-5, 6-10, 11-13, 14-17, 18+
    • Planning Effort: Moderate
    • Difficulty Level: Moderate
  • Pre-requisites

    Ability to understand student needs within the moment

  • Process

    1. If the student is “in the moment” and displaying interfering behaviors – immediately assess the function and student’s needs.
    2. Agree and empathize with the student: I really like what you built; this IS a good toy to play with.
    3. Begin to provide a structured choice question and options the student has control over such as:”What are you going to choose tomorrow at play time? The Lincoln logs or the art area?”
    4. Continue with question choices to help redirect the student’s thoughts from the problem to the solution and assist her with regaining control over a situation in which she previously felt power-less.
    5. Note that when a student is “In the Moment” the adult job is to de-escalate the situation.
  • Documents and Related Resources

    Making Choices to Increase Positive Behavior PDF (Watson article with additional scenarios and examples)


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